Monday, October 15, 2012

A restoration to the Kiss of Peace

From the blog Straight from the Heart, a post on returning the Kiss of Peace to the Liturgy. I've been to parishes where this is done. Of those Orthodox parishes I have visited that do it, it has a decidedly chatty, happy feel most Catholics will find reminiscent of a Novus Ordo mass. It need not be that conversational, though, and I have seen "successful" occurrences in Coptic, Maronite, etc. churches. Thoughts?

The peace in the Coptic tradition

During my pre-Orthodox days when I was an Anglican priest, one of the most popular services for the devout was the so-called “8 am service”—a much-shortened Communion service offered without hymns, without sermon—and usually without many people. Those who favoured it said they liked the service because it was short and quiet and one could “make one’s own Communion” without the necessity of meeting other worshippers. It allowed them their own quiet devotional time with the Lord, without all the fuss and bother of other people.

This desire to avoid others at church and reduce worship to a private act is deeply ingrained in the fallen human heart, which instinctively builds walls to keep the other out. It found a peculiarly American expression in the institution of “drive-in churches” where a family drove into a church parking lot and remained isolated in their cars for the duration of the service. (I’m not making this up.) According a description in a 1967 edition of Time magazine, “Many worshipers are attracted by the lack of usual Sunday formality, and show up in everything from bathing suits to pajamas...Ushers distribute printed hymns as the cars roll in, help plug in speakers, take car-to-car collections during the service or request worshipers to place donations in a bin on the way out. Some drive-ins also pass out car-to-car wafers and grape juice for Communion…Some pastors try to talk briefly with churchgoers as they roll out through the gates; (one pastor) even encourages his mobile congregation to greet visiting preachers with ‘a gentle, dignified horn toot.’”

What is lacking in all this, whether it be the venerable Anglican institution of the 8 am service or the tragi-comic fad of the drive-in church, is the recognition that Christian liturgy is a corporate act, something done by a united body of people, the royal priesthood of the church (see 1 Peter 2:9), and not by private individuals who regard the presence of others at worship as an unfortunate but necessary distraction.

This corporate understanding of Christian worship is at the foundation of the apostolic practice of exchanging the Kiss of Peace, (or “the holy kiss” as they called it; 1 Cor. 16:20). From the days of the apostles, “at every Christian synaxis (or gathering)”, the faithful exchanged the Kiss, sealing all their intercessions with the sign of unity. The original place for the Kiss was “immediately after the prayers at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, for its pristine purpose was to conclude the synaxis of readings and prayers…It was the symbol of fraternal love that sealed the Christian service” (Robert Taft, The Great Entrance, pp. 375, 376).

How did this work? In the earliest times, it would seem that the Kiss was given indiscriminately, between all Christians regardless of gender, and on the lips. (We recall how this was the way St. Mary of Egypt gave the Kiss to Zosimas before receiving Holy Communion.) In the earliest days when the Church was persecuted by the pagan state, the group assembling for the synaxis was a small intimate one which knew one another well, and such mixing of gender was not much of a problem. Later, and especially after the Peace of the Church under Constantine, the numbers grew dramatically, and propriety demanded a separation of genders, with the men standing on one side and the women and children on the other. But even then the Peace was still exchanged and given on the lips, with the men greeting the men standing immediately around them and the women doing likewise with the women around them...

Complete post here.


  1. We do it in our parish, but I have learned to stand still when visiting and see if it is done before automatically doing it.
    My mother (who is not Orthodox) hates, hates, hates it. I think of her when I do it every time.

  2. As a former Roman Catholic, I watched what started as a dignified and Solemn Kiss of Peace gradually over time turn into total nuttiness with people waving, the priest bouncing around hugging everybody etc etc. This was a very common experience in many parishes and completely broke the flow of the Mass, to say nothing of one's concentration.
    Now that I am Orthodox and I know and love my fellow parishioners far better than I ever did as a cradle Catholic - I certainly do not want the worship of God to degenerate into a free-for-all. We live in a very casual society - I think it would be unlikely to remain the holy and sacred experience it should be. I notice the Russian language churches tend to have a much more devout expression of worship than any English language parish I have attended- perhaps there is a cultural element involved.
    I certainly would oppose it in my parish. The idea is wonderful - in my experience the practise is not.

  3. I think my parish manages this well. Everyone just kisses or shakes the hand of the people nearest them, and this lasts a couple of minutes until the priest starts up again and everyone stops. And then a monastery I am familiar with does it even better. There, the priest shares the kiss of peace with whoever else is serving in the alter, and then with another monk, who then passes it on to one or two other people, and the kiss of peace radiates throughout the congregation, everyone receiving it and then passing it on to the person behind them. It is very peaceful and orderly, and you get a sense of the love that flowing out into the world.

  4. I can't stand the practice, and avoid it whenever possible. It is disruptive, noisy, and destroys ones focus on prayer and worship of God. I have been Orthodox since 1976. No mean-boned spirit conveyed; just a strong dislike of "trendiness" and disorder. I think I could adjust to a simple, silent, hands-off, respectful bow to the person adjacent. Not more than that. If we are honest, most contemporary parishes lack the intense fervor for Christ that was present centuries ago, when the "kiss of peace" was exchanged among worshipers. Rather, we are exchanging a jolly "good morning!" with the people around us.

  5. I find it absolutely obnoxious and would hate to find it in an Orthodox church. However it may seem in theory, in practice it is a serious disruption and destroys any solemnity that may be there. Possibly I have just never, ever seen it done in a way that was not a circus. Too many years of being a Catholic and spending the "peace", kneeling with my eyes closed and steadfastly ignoring the backslappers around me and the conversations about how much so-and-so has grown and is that a new dress? :P

  6. Back in the day when attending the Episcopal (and later Anglican) parishes, I was quite content with the priest turning to the congregation and giving the PAX 'the LORD be with you' and the people politely responding 'and with thy Spirit'. Later, with the new liturgies in the Catholic, Episcopal & Lutheran churches the creepy, shaking of hands, check to cheek touching/kissing, people running around to 'greet' their friends just drove me out of the churches. My rescue was Orthodoxy but it was making inroads there as well. Sorry, I refuse to participate. 'So called exchanging the Peace' freaks me out. It's an invasion of privacy and improper. There are other reasons as well.

  7. The kiss of peace is already part of the Orthodox Liturgy and has been for centuries. It died out among the laity, but never ceased among the clergy. Now in some places it has been restored among the laity. However, it is not done like in the RC church with the Priest going up and down the aisle. In Orthodox tradition, the kiss of peace is not exchanged between orders. In other words, the Priests exchange the kiss of peace. The senior Priest says, "Christ is among us." The other replies "He is and ever will be." The deacons exchange the kiss of peace among themselves and the laity among themselves.

    1. Interestingly, the RC priest really shouldn't be going up and down either. While it has and continues to happen, many bishops have told their priests to stop.

      The place where this was done by the laity is very clear to anyone who attends a Liturgy (Latin or Orthodox).

      Of possible interest, canonically (even from very early Church Orders) is that this Kiss of Peace should not be done with those not in the Church. Now that in most places (I do know some parishes that do) the catechumens and non-Orthodox stay through the entire service, this becomes a difficult thing to explain to the laity or visitor.

  8. I‘m all for ancient tradition. But it seems to me that the current desire to restore old practices is a bit one-sided. Sure, we have the kiss of peace, but what about separating the sexes? Frequent communion is great, but what about long penances and public confession? How about actually dismissing the catechumens? It seems to me that we pick and choose what practices to “revive” based on our own modern tastes.